The Spy Who Funded Me: Revisiting the Congress for Cultural Freedom

Campaigning Culture and the Global Cold War, a new volume edited by Giles Scott-Smith and Charlotte Lerg

By Patrick Iber
Published in

IN 1950, a group of intellectuals founded an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) with the aim of consolidating an anti-totalitarian intellectual community around the globe. Suspicions about the CCF’s origins are as old as the organization itself. At its first event, the eponymous Congress for Cultural Freedom held in West Berlin in 1950, Gerhart Eisler — then a member of the Volkskammer (people’s chamber), later in charge of the East German communications commission — called the delegates (among them Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, and Sidney Hook) “literary apes” and “American secret police.” The CCF’s connections with the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were definitively established 16 and 17 years later in reports by The New York Times and Ramparts magazine, respectively: the CIA, operating through a series of dummy foundations, had been instrumental in organizing and funding the CCF. Those revelations sparked new debates about the propriety of spy organizations sponsoring culture, which have waxed and waned in intensity ever since, but never fully disappeared.